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December 12, 2017
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Diwali: another Festival of Lights

Children carefully hold small clay lamps called ‘diyas’ on trays at the community hall of Emerald Green in Rock Hill, NY, in celebration of the Hindu festival Diwali.
Contributed photos

By Eileen Hennessy
November 16, 2016

Every year, from Thanksgiving week through the end of the year The River Reporter runs a special section titled “Celebrations” in place of our usual “Currents” leisure section. We also typically pick a common theme for the features in those issues.

This year, the theme is “Let there be light.” And this year, we are going to start our themed features a week early, because the imagery of light is one so universal that it covers not only the more traditional Western religions we think of during the holiday season, Christianity and Judaism, but many others as well—including Hinduism. As we discovered in recent conversations with Shivani Patel, one of the managers of Pete’s Market in Narrowsburg, NY, there’s a major Hindu celebration, Diwali, that occurs around this time. Like Hannukah, it is known as the “Festival of Lights.” And the small but thriving community of Hindus that lives in Sullivan County celebrated it right here in the community hall of Rock Hill’s Emerald Green on November 12.

Diwali is a five-day festival which actually took place this year from October 26 through October 30. In keeping with the symbolism that seems to be given universally to the image of light, it celebrates not only the victory of light over darkness, but good over evil, knowledge over ignorance, hope over despair. Diwali night itself is the third night, and is scheduled to occur on the new moon of the Hindu lunisolar month Kartika; like Hanukkah and Easter, it is a moving festival. That night commemorates an episode in which Lord Rama returned home after being exiled and was welcomed with rows of lights radiating from every household. Laxmi, goddess of wealth, is thought to roam the earth that night, and the lights are also designed to welcome her in. That night, Hindus celebrating around the world light literally hundreds of millions of lights, typically small clay oil lamps called “diya” or candles, and put them on housetops, in doors and windows, and around buildings.

In Sullivan County there weren’t quite millions of lamps. But a group of moms whose children attend the Arya Dance Academy in Monticello, which takes place at Monticello’s Best Western Hotel, owned by Payal Patel, came together to create the Diwali celebration in Rock Hill at the community hall in Emerald Green.